Lets raise a glass to Prohibition

On a foggy evening on April 23, 1927, the fishing schooner Etta M. Burns was sailing back to New Bedford when the helmsman fell asleep and the boat washed up on the rocks off Squibnocket Beach in Chilmark. As the surf battered the ship, bottles of liquor were released from the ruptured hull and washed up on shore.

The news spread fast around the Island, and people swarmed to the beach, trying to salvage the bottles while Chester Poole, an ardent prohibitionist who lived about a mile up the beach, smashed every bottle he could find.

But in retrospect, Poole got the last laugh, because the bottles that washed ashore were marked Old Mac Scotch Whisky, but they had come not from Scotland but from a rusty steamer anchored 30 miles off Montauk. They were all totally rotgut.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 18th Amendment, a constitutional ban on the production and sale of alcoholic beverages that can be seen as the very definition of unintended consequences. Rather than eliminating liquor, this act did more to instill a culture of drinking in a thirsty nation than 100,000 happy hours.

As Craig Kingsbury told Linsey Lee, the M.V. Museums oral history curator, Hey, when Prohibition was going good, be a hard job to throw a rock and not hit on a booze establishment somewhere [on the Island].

In fact, the Vineyard hosted enough bootlegging, rumrunning, moonshining, and other Prohibition-era activities to merit its own film, Bootleggers on Marthas Vineyard Craig Kingsbury Talks a....

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